The Nets’ surprising 6-8 start to the 2018-19 season came to a shuddering halt when emerging star Caris LeVert suffered a horrific dislocated ankle Nov. 12 in a fall at Minnesota. For their next 12 games, the Nets were lost in the wilderness, enduring a 2-10 skid that ended with eight straight losses.
With little warning, the Nets then pulled off an amazing about-face, recording seven straight wins and beating top teams such as the Raptors, 76ers and LeBron James-led Lakers before finally seeing the streak halted by the Pacers in a close game Friday night at Barclays Center.
How did the Nets get their season back on track? Here are five major reasons:
1 PLAYERS-ONLY VIDEO SESSIONS
After the Nets blew a series of fourth-quarter leads, coach Kenny Atkinson and his staff suggested a players-only video session to iron out difficulties the team was having with turnovers and poor execution at the end of games. In the next game, the Nets scored a 106-105 overtime win over the Raptors, who had the NBA’s best record.
“They lifted themselves up instead of us feeding them film, feeding them player development, feeding them performance time,” Atkinson said. “When you have real development and real progress, I think it’s player-led. Great things that happen with teams in this league come from within.”
2 DEFINING ROLES
When LeVert went down, the Nets had several other players working their way back from injuries, and the lineup was in constant flux. Atkinson made three major moves to settle things down. First, he returned Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the starting lineup for his defensive prowess. Then he rode out Allen Crabbe’s shooting slump until he began firing on all cylinders. Finally, he began using rookie Rodions Kurucs off the bench for his energy and started him when Crabbe got hurt again.
3 PLAYMAKING POINT GUARDS
When LeVert got hurt, Atkinson started using Spencer Dinwiddie in the backcourt with D’Angelo Russell, but the early returns were poor. He returned Dinwiddie to the second unit but found ways to use him with Russell in limited doses. Dinwiddie still got starter’s minutes and often finished games when he had the hot hand. Their two distinct styles have posed problems for defenses.
4 STRONG PRESENCE OF VETERANS
It’s not that general manager Sean Marks could have anticipated the problems the Nets faced, but he made offseason moves that gave the Nets a cadre of mature veterans who have provided exceptional leadership. DeMarre Carroll had that role to himself last season, but the addition of Ed Davis and Jared Dudley with their combination of intelligence and honesty has been invaluable.
5 IMPROVED EXECUTION AT BOTH ENDS
Early in their winning streak, the Nets made a dramatic improvement in rebounding and defense. Then the offense took off as roles settled. In particular, Joe Harris evolved from three-point specialist to all-around threat, creating problems for defenses because of his skill at getting to the rim and passing out of double-teams. If Crabbe returns and shoots well, the Nets’ multiple weapons will be difficult for most teams to handle.